Postpartum Complications Scene 6: Early Morning Blood Draws

(Scene five is here.)

It doesn’t take long to figure out how things work at the hospital.

First, there are the early morning wake ups. It usually starts around 5am when you’re finally deep in sleep. Someone tabs on your door and introduces himself by saying, “Lab.” Such an odd way to introduce yourself, I thought the first time it happened. In walks a phlebotomist with an unfriendly cart full of tubes and blood. I would have paid them to leave me alone.

Then he says, “I’m here to get your labs,” by which he means, “I’m here to draw your blood.” My sister-in-law has spent a lot of time in hospitals and she calls these morning phlebotomists vampires in the night. I couldn’t agree more.

Next they ask where I want them to draw blood. When you’ve just woken up at the hospital and hate needles, this is a traumatic question. My usual go-to strategy is to suggest my hand because they can never get blood from my inner elbow. I try to relax and fall back asleep the moment they leave me alone.

There have been a number of these early morning “lab” experiences that went south:

  • The captain obvious phlebotomist who takes one look at my arms and says, “Wow, you’ve been poked a lot.”
  • The lady who talks to me for so long that she has to wait and redo my tourniquet because my veins have been squeezed for too long.
  • The lady who can’t get blood out of my hand. After multiple pokes, I start sobbing and freak her out.
  • The time they forget to order my labs together and I have two different phlebotomists come in back to back. The only thing worse than one blood draw is two.

The bad ones teach me who the good ones are: the ones who stay quiet, keep the lights low, and let me pretend to keep sleeping.

After about a week at the hospital, I demand, in uncharacteristic fashion (I usually try to give them the benefit of the doubt), that I will not allow a new phlebotomist to take my blood. I tell my nurse, “If they’re new at this or bad at blood draws, do not let them in my room.” My nurse tells me this isn’t possible, but I continue to insist. I am dead serious. I dread waking up with every ounce of blood still left in me.

The second thing you learn about hospitals explains the first thing: hospitals are oriented around doctors, not patients. These early morning blood draws happen because doctors want information about their patients when they come in around 8am—which means they need their patients’ lab work ready by then. I am a report of quantifiable numbers indicating my person. They see bodies like mine all day long. I’m not saying these things make doctors bad people, but that hospitals might have better outcomes if they humanized patients.

(Scene seven is here.)

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